This is an open response to Mary Battaglia and Larry Winkler’s posts on the data showing rising numbers of low income and minority students in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
I tend to agree with Larry Winkler’s take that the “low income” and “minority” data is more of a diversion from the larger discussion of standards and achievement in our schools. The district and board have presented data on low income and/or minority status (not synonymous) as if it is an explanation or an excuse for the low expecations and low achievement levels of portions of the district student body.
We need to rethink to how our schools and educational programs operate and are staffed if we are to achieve high educational standards during a time of demographic change. We are seeing changes that include more low income students, students of color, populations for whom English is a second language, and students of all backgrounds who face extraordinary challenges at home. We also are seeing more stress among students who are under extreme academic pressure at home and at school in ways that did not exist twenty years ago.
We don’t have the same populations that we had five or ten years ago. Why would expect to sustain high academic achievement without a discussion of whether we need to realign our human and financial resources in order to do so? (And I’m not talking about one-directional PowerPoint presentations that don’t get at the issues.)
When I’ve met with other parents of students of color at East — which has the highest proportion of low income and highest proportion and number of minority students of the Madison high schools — we’ve discovered that we are on the same page: we want the district to raise the expectations and the standards for all students and students of color in particular. There is common understanding that good education is fundamental to good futures.
This desire was echoed in the recent East High United Meeting, where we discussed advanced academic classes (TAG, AP, other). While there was passionate interest in classes at these levels, there also were some good questions and good discussion about the standards and expectations in ALL of our classes.
The tough part is that there have been few serious discussions of what this indicates for resource allocation in general, or for specific schools, within this district. The Northside Coalition has tried repeatedly to obtain a serious discussion of the equity formula, and I distinctly remember Barbara Golden and others from MAFAAC raising equity and minority achievement at school board meetings last year.
Sadly, the board chose to spend more time considering whether to allow live animals in the classroom than it did responding to either issue. Even if one accepted an argument that there wasn’t time in monthly board meetings, one might have expected to see such issues raised in relevant committees such as Performance and Achievement or Finance and Operations.
The issues were not raised in the board or in committee, however, and as a result, we had yet another budget that did not align cuts or spending with the board’s stated priorities for student achievement.